A Little Bit About Platinum Challenges
As a purely leisure Marriott hotel stayer and 10 year Marriott Rewards gold member, I had the good fortune this year and for the first time, to begin the year with rollover nights, 21 to be exact Happiness is... , which set me up nicely to earn platinum elite status later this year. Just the same, with a heavy hitting travel year in store to some exciting places, I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to be able to check-in to some memorable properties already as platinum, thereby receiving some of the elevated benefits that come with the status?' And so it was that I contacted Marriott and asked to be enrolled in the Platinum Challenge. I was given the rest of the month in which I enrolled (January), plus the next 3 months (through the end of April) to complete the challenge.
For those unfamiliar with Marriott Reward's Platinum Challenge, it is a vehicle by which Marriott Rewards gold members can fast track to the next elite level, platinum, by completing 9 stays in 3 months. To qualify, you must not have been enrolled in a challenge program during the previous year and you must be a gold member. There is also a similar challenge, the Gold Challenge, for silver members, which I believe requires less stays in the same amount of time. To enroll in the challenge, simply contact Marriott Rewards Customer Support and ask if you are eligible to enroll. If so, request to be signed up. It's that simple.
In my previous blog posts, My Platinum Challenge 2017 and My Platinum Challenge 2017 - Continuing Saga I highlighted my first 7 stays, which took place between Jan 7th and Feb 12th. I was then down to my last two stays, which were scheduled at the Oahu Hotels | Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and then on the tail end of that trip, Hotel Suites in San Diego, CA | Fairfield Inn and Suites, San Diego Old Town.
When we finally decided to head over to the Big Island to see our friends who had moved there 3 years ago, we knew we couldn't step foot on Hawaiian soil without a stopover in Oahu to visit our young food and travel blogger extraordinaire and friend, Island Miler, Author at Jeffsetter Travel, aka kharada46 here on Insiders, and his lovely wife.
Alaska Airlines Premium Class
It was thus that we settled on an open jaw itinerary, arriving in Honolulu and departing Kona, routing through SAN both ways. We fly Alaska and this year I am enjoying MVP Gold status with them. I booked economy tickets, hoping for 1st class upgrades. It was only too late that I realized that this was some pretty naive thinking. Alaska flies B73X's with only 12 - 16 1st class seats. As the cost of domestic first class really isn't too far out of reach for anyone willing to pay for it for that special vacation (Hawaii, duh), I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that AS will sometimes exercise an option to hold those seats until the last minute for paid upgrades, rather than give their elites comp upgrades at the 48 hour window. Lesson learned. Next time purchase the MVP gold upgradeable fare using one of the 4 annual gold guest upgrade certs). We did get upgraded to first class for the flights between our little home airport and SAN, which were short flights of only an hour in duration.
AS is an all Boeing B73X airline. Only offering dual class cabins in the past, they have now, since their recent purchase of , added a premium economy class to the mix. It's a nice addition, as premium economy customers receive free drinks, as well as premium snack box. We liked it. We also liked watching their free entertainment using the gogo in-flight app on our mobile devices, which worked good, as did their in-flight wifi service. They also now offer a free chat service, which is really great for keeping touch with those on the ground. It was a pleasant flight and the time went by pretty fast.
I'm an Alaska theme plane junkie... Parked at the gate next to our plane on the outbound journey, was this plane, "Spirit of the Islands," alas, headed for MCO.
As usual, snapping away (and poorly, I might add) at commercial aviation eye candy. It's this JAL B788 route that had me slooping around on the top of a parking garage at the end of the runway here a couple of years back. My Inaugural Planespotting Adventure - Part 3
Finally, we were off and flying. We soared into the sky, leaving the San Diego coastline behind. All water from here on out.
Sitting in row 6 with plenty of legroom, the flight was comfortable and went by fast. Finally, Land Ho. I thought we may have flown over the Big Island, but once I saw the long rectangular shape of Moloka'i, I realized we must've been flying over Maui, which in a weird way, sort of (okay, not really - can you say "Rorshack" ) resembles Big Island.
Moloka'i upper left, Maui center right.
At HNL, we waited for our luggage (yes, iahflyr, we brought along some special spirits -unavailable in Hawaii - for our island friends) then headed over to the rental car place. The process was seamless. (Aboard the aircraft, we were required to fill out an Ag declaration, which was later collected/examined by - no one.)
As we only had 2 nights on Oahu, and a visit with the kharada46's was the primary focus of our brief stay there, we opted for the Waikiki Marriott, not too far from HNL and also not too far from where Mr. And Mrs. Island Miler call home. The car loaded and Google maps fired up, we were off to our hotel on Waikiki. This is where things got interesting.
Waikiki - Then
We have never been to Hawaii. Well, save for the one time long ago, when I was on a USAF Space A flight, a C-141. It was the daily Pacific theater "mail run," stopping in Hawaii, Yakota, Okinawa, Guam, and finally, The PI's. At Hickam AFB, our plane was grounded (story of Air Mobility Command, right? ) We were stuck there overnight, waiting for a part and with no VOQ's (visiting officer quarters). Just when I and a female airman that I was flying with, thought that we would be spending the night in an all night base cafeteria sitting in a booth made of a molded plastic (so comfy!), our savior of the day (on that particular trip, it took 9 days to fly Space A from Travis AFB to MCAS Futenma - YEP! 9 DAYS!), a young Marine stationed in South Carolina, walked up to us, informed us that he was on the first day of leave (his destination was Okinawa, same as me) and thus had a wad of money in his pocket, for which he was going to grab a taxi to a room in a high rise hotel on the strip (could it have been a Marriott? We'll never know ) and that we were welcome to go with him, no hanky panky, just putting a kind offer out there to a fellow Marine. It took only a half of a glance between me and my booth mate and about 2 seconds for us to both pipe up, "Ya, we're in, thanks!" #militarylife. So off we headed to Waikiki in the dark, where we received only what he promised us, a sleep on the second double bed and a fresh shower - he, a true gentleman and how about that?!! At zero dark thirty, we taxi'ed back to the base where our plane was completing its maintenance. A couple of hours later, and we were sky borne once again.
So ya, pretty much never been to Hawaii.
Waikiki - Now
Tropical Paradise. What do we envision when we think of Tropical Paradise? Pristine beaches, palm trees, turquoise water, beautiful hotels nestled in between lush greenery and rich, green manicured lawns? Mountain views? As we headed away from the airport on Oahu's only "freeway", the H1, a high sea of dated, unattractive high rises loomed before us. The closer we got, the more dense it became. So this is - Waikiki. Urbane. Dated. Not very pretty, really. We drove through a seemingly endless strip with hundreds of high end - and not so high end, stores. The same stores that anyone can find in any major urban destination the world over. Worse, it was packed with tens of thousands of tourists. Interesting.
Stay #8 - Waikiki Marriott
Still, we were excited about our stay. Apparently, so was Waikiki Marriott
Our time on Oahu was short, only 2 nights. We arrived at the Waikiki Marriott, located near the far end of the strip, busy but efficient. The valets handled our car and we were off to receive our room assignment. The lobby was a lightly colored, pleasantly decorated, open air affair. We liked it. Prior to our arrival, I booked our room for 2 nights, the first night being cash, the second night being points. The cash night was a deluxe ocean view room, described in the room details on the website as having a "breathtaking" ocean view (and an appropriate photo to illustrate it). It was expensive. As a gold member (or even platinum for that matter), I didn't want to leave the ocean view to the mercy of the upgrade Gods. An ocean view was, for me non-negotiable. With the resort fee, tax and parking, it was going to be about $500/night. The second night, on points, required a $150 supplement for the same room type. Here, I opted for merely ocean view (for only a $50/night supplement). This was where I was hoping to get the small (one level) upgrade for the one night, thereby keeping us in the same room (with the "breathtaking" ocean view) for both nights. I called in advance to inquire about this possibility. I was told they weren't sure if they could do that, as they have so many platinum guests. The rooms controller wasn't available, but the associate said she would try. A few hours later, the second night on points now registered in my reservation as the "deluxe" ocean view. She did it! Great!!
These deluxe ocean view rooms are located in the K tower (name starts with a 'K'), which is closest to the ocean. The hotel is very large, and it felt like we walked through a small city, passing through a shopping mall just to get to the elevators. We headed up the elevator to the 7th floor and found our room. When we opened the door, we realized that we were actually just 3 floors above the small pool, crowded with people. Our room was located in the crook (think inside elbow joint) of the "L" shaped tower. Directly in front of our balcony, as in, right in our face, maybe a foot away, was the balcony of the room next to us, on the opposite axis of the "L". Looking out to our left, away from the opposite axis and its wall of balconies, we could barely make out the ocean, as it was hidden behind a thick cloud of palm fronds, extending from a grove of palm trees beneath us. For $500/night, this was our "breathtaking" deluxe ocean view. Only it wasn't. I was stunned! Stupefied. Disappointed. I wish I would've taken pictures! We slogged our luggage back down the elevator, through the "mall" to the front desk. "Hi, We have a problem. The room is not acceptable. We were expecting a "breathtaking" deluxe ocean view as described in our reservation." To be nice and show good will, I even mentioned we would be willing to negotiate, as my inviolable "breathtaking ocean view" had to materialize, one way or another. Never be that nice. The associate said, "Of course, let me see what we can do for you." He disappeared and showed up 5 minutes later. "We have a nice ocean front room for you on a high floor, but as it is one of our suites, it will necessitate a nightly supplement of $200, which at a fraction of what it normally sells for, is a very good deal." In shock, I stared at him with unseeing eyes and a determined smile on my face and said, "That should be fine." Should I have done that? No. I should have held my ground and insisted on the room I reserved as it was described. If none was available, I should've played hard ball and demanded the suite at no extra cost. I chose not to. Why? Because argumentative conflict, with ensuing stress and elevated blood pressure is not how I envision or choose to begin a relaxing holiday! I know people do it, but I refuse. I did negotiate a little by saying, "And you'll throw in breakfast for both of us for both days, right?" He said, "Yes," but then amazingly, "I'll have to take back one of the Mai Tai coupons." Are you rolling over hysterically yet? Looking back, it was ridiculously insane! "Yes, you can have back your Mai Tai coupon!" (You can have them both! We don't drink them anyway!)
* The resort fee only covered one breakfast/day.
Okay, back to the elevator and hopefully, this is it. We look at the room key. 24th floor. No palm fronds up there!! Up on our floor, we start walking down the hall and realize our room is at the very end, on the ocean front of the tower. The door to the room is large. It's actually a double door. This looks promising... We open the door, and - WOW! The suite is huge. It has one large bedroom, dressing area, 2 bathrooms, with shower and separate tub, wet bar area the size of a small kitchen, huge foyer, dining room and living area. There are - 4 balconies(!), 3 large, with furniture, plus a 4th narrow one. The pictures don't do it justice.
The suite ended up being a luxurious indulgence. And as for that breathtaking ocean view? Well, this was it! Aside from the cost, we were very happy! I was reminded of one thing however, and a bit unfortunate. Stepping out onto the narrow ocean front balcony 24 floors above Earth's dirt, I almost became unhinged. Whoa, far too high for me! Looking down at the beach below was harrowing.
It wasn't easy to stand on the narrow balcony and take these pics!
Later, the guy at the front desk asked us how we liked the room. When I told him I realized I was afraid of heights, he looked concerned and asked if we wanted to move. NO! we replied!
Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail
The next morning saw us heading out to Makapu'u Lighthouse. We were torn between hiking Diamond Head and the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail. We didn't have time for both. We were told that while the views from atop Diamond Head were spectacular, on the hike itself up the backside there was nothing to look at, as opposed to the Makapu'u Trail, where the views were constant, thus settling the matter. As we merged onto H1 heading east, we began to leave Waikiki and all of its inglorious tourist insanity behind us. Traveling through each suburban sector, we started seeing more of what we envisioned urban Oahu would look like: mostly older, though well maintained, suburban single family homes fashioned in typical island style architecture with perhaps a hint of Asian modality, and lovely tropical foliage. With each mile, the population and housing density diminished, until before long we were traveling on a narrow highway along a coastal, Hawaiian wonderland of earth, formed from primeval lava and overgrown with lush, green plant life, all which stretched down to meet sand and surf.
At Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail, we parked along the highway. The trail is moderate - somewhat steep, but not too long, only about a mile. This part of the island along the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, tends to be hot, dry and windy, and it was. We saw lots of cacti growing. On the lower half of the trail, you can see Koko Head and Koko Crater. About midway up, the trail switches north. Along this portion, you can see the lighthouse beneath, with its red roof contrasted against the deep blue sea, and between Nov and May, there can be good opportunities to get glimpses of migrating humpback whales, which we had hoped for. We weren't so lucky that day, but the spectacular coastline views couldn't be beat, especially arriving at the top, where a panoramic view of the windward coast and off shore islets was enjoyed.
Kaiwi Shoreline and Koko Head
Windward coast of Oahu from Makapu'u Head
What a great place! I began to wish we had more time on Oahu and hope to return someday.
Once we had made our way back to the tourist mecca of Waikiki, I took time to explore the hotel, then returned to the expensive piece of high altitude real estate that was still ours for less than one more day. The view. It was all about that view!
Aloha! Island Friends!
Finally, it was time to do what we came here for! We got ready, and made our way down to the car. It took us longer than we had anticipated, but we arrived at Piggy Smalls, a Vietnamese restaurant, where we met - for the first time in the flesh - our longtime online friend and Hawai'i blogger extraordinaire, Kyle and his very sweet wife! We had so much fun! They gave us gifts. Food, of course! And I love my Hawaiian/Asian food themed reusable grocery bag! It's my favorite (non-consumable) souvenir from the Islands. The conversation was fun and dinner was delicious.
So was dessert!
We loved meeting our island friends. It was so gratifying after conversing on Insiders for so long! Thank you kharada46's for your hospitality. We can't wait to see you again!
Us hanging out with the cool kids.
So much fun and why I blog with unashamed indulgence, forgetting my primary audience. Good memories bring joy.
The next morning, it was time to pack up, take one last long look at that "breathtaking," vertigo inducing ocean view. Good-bye Waikiki. Good-bye Waikiki Marriott. Thanks for the stay. Great suite, great, breathtaking ocean view. But while we look forward with anticipation to returning to Oahu, it's not likely we'll return to Waikiki. Not really our cup of tea.
Good-bye beautiful Oahu and wonderful Island friends. A *** hou koke iā ʻoe. Mata chikaiuchini o ai shimashou. (See you soon, we hope!)
On to the Big Island on our first Hawai'ian Airlines flight
But that's another tale.
Stay #9 - Fairfield Inn and Suites San Diego Old Town
To wrap this one up, the final stay of my platinum challenge was at the FFI in the Old Town section of San Diego, necessitated by a 10pm arrival back from the Big Island. Typical FFI. Solid room offering and breakfast the next morning. Good quality, all brand standards and expectations met. The only ding would be that the night clerk didn't mention the complimentary shuttle service, which we weren't made aware of until after we had requested our Uber the next morning. Oh well.
A Fun Little Riddle
When we got to the airport (SAN), upon arriving at the Alaska gate concourse in T1, I noticed that the gate next to ours had just completed boarding for a flight to LIH. LIH... LIH... Why did LIH nag at my brain? Oh, right. I recalled reading a status update from bejacob just the night before... "Heading out to SAN this evening, Hawaii tomorrow." From the gate, I tweeted him inside the plane. "Hey, is that you inside that plane?" Turns out, yep. We just missed another potential Insiders Mini Meet Up.
Bejacob & Company soaring to the Islands
I thought this was a cool shot
Both properties posted our nights and points in a timely fashion and correctly. The cool thing was, at the same time that my 9th stay posted, automatically, so did my new platinum status, platinum challenge now completed.
Thank you, Marriott!!